Do you feel like you have suddenly lost control of your life? Are your children, no matter how old or young, suddenly calling the shots instead of you? Are you plagued with phrases like, “But dad said I could!” “My tummy hurts!” “You hate me!” and “I promise I’ll do it later!”?
If this sound like just another day in your life, you’ve likely got a manipulative child on your hands. Children quickly turn into little manipulators as soon as they discover that it works. They will lie, whine, threaten, blame, and guilt trip until you are ready to scream.
So what do you do? Simple; you stop allowing their manipulative behaviors to work. The solution is simple, but actually implementing it is not. You will probably feel horrible, your kids will be angry, and things will not be pleasant for a while; but it will all be worth it.
Manipulation Is a Learned Behavior
Your child was not born with the manipulative gene, nor were they preprogrammed to be able to con you into doing whatever they wanted. As sad as it sounds and as hard as it may be for you to realize or accept it; they learned it from you. That’s not to say that you are manipulative and they learned how to do it from you; it simply means that they began with very small; almost unrecognizable manipulations and you gave in. They kept manipulating you and you kept giving them what they wanted; kids learn very quickly.
Your child soon learned that hurtful words, blaming others, begging and pleading, or even lying got them exactly what they wanted. While this was learned quickly, changing this behavior is not quite so easy. Undoing something is always much more difficult than never having done it at all, but fear not; it’s never too late.
Figure Out Why, What, Who, When, and Where
If you can figure out why your child is resorting to manipulative behaviors, you may be able to solve your problem much more quickly. Really pay attention to your child’s behavior and see if you can figure out if there is some underlying cause that you maybe didn’t notice.
• The When: Is your child only manipulative during certain times of the day or week? Does it only happen when it’s time to do homework or chores? Maybe it’s always at bedtime or when they are watching television. Pay attention to when your child acts up and see if there are adjustments that can be made to put it to a stop.
• The Where: Your child’s manipulation could have something to do with places that he or she doesn’t want to go. For instance, if they are constantly trying to get out of school, maybe something is going on that they haven’t told you about. If you notice a pattern, talk to your child to try and get to the root of the real problem.
• The Who: Does your child only manipulate certain people? Maybe they do it to you, but not your spouse. Is it because you give in and nobody else does? Maybe your child manipulates others that you are not aware of; find out who else your child is able to manipulate and work to put a stop to it. Getting them to stop doing it with you will do little good if they know that there are others they can still control.
• The What: Does the same thing trigger your child’s manipulative responses over and over? Maybe dinner time, bath time, going to bed, or going out to visit? Any of these things could be something that your child has issues with and they just don’t know how to tell you. For example, if your child’s manipulation kicks in every single night at bed time, perhaps they are afraid of the dark; maybe getting a night light or leaving the hallway light on will solve the problem and bring the manipulative tactics to an abrupt halt.
Change YOUR Behavior
Some children are such good manipulators that they can actually bring you to tears. They make you want to scream, throw things, and run away. As parents, we are shocked that our own children can actually make us feel that way.
It’s up to you to make the change from being manipulated to being back in control. You’ve got to call your children on their manipulative tactics as soon as they try them. This means that you have to set your emotions aside and realize that your child is only doing whatever they have to in order to get what they want. Manipulation is all about control and you’ll have to rain on your child’s parade in order to get it back.
Show no emotional response when your child starts the whining, guilt tripping, promises, or blaming. Once you’ve told them to do something (or that they can’t do something), that’s the end of the discussion. If the whining persists, it may be best to ignore it or send your child to their room. They need to know that your word is set in stone; once you’ve told them something, that’s the way it is – no questions.